- The relationship between PM Malcolm Turnbull and his deputy, Barnaby Joyce, has turned poisonous and recriminatory.
- The Coalition itself appears on the brink of civil war over Joyce remaining Nationals leader.
- Joyce is taking personal leave next week, but says he won’t resign.
Love does strange things to the brain.
How else can you explain the circumstance Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce finds himself in?
One of the country’s most effective retail politicians is now in a Promethean world, being torn apart daily.
Today he basically blew up his relationship with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, calling comments about his affair with his former staffer “inept” and “completely unnecessary”, as well as causing “further harm” to those involved.
He then essentially dismissed the new code of conduct banning sex between ministers and staff.
An angry and pugilistic Joyce looks ready to lash out at anyone who challenges him, and increasingly looks petulant, hubristic and self-indulgent.
He has next week off on personal leave, thereby avoiding the potential embarrassment of being acting PM when voters are questioning his ability to control himself, let alone the country.
Even if you accept Joyce’s assertion that he’s done anything “technically” wrong as a politician, his attempts to hide his complex private life over the last 12 months – and the belief that he can prevail as leader – have now unleashed a torrent of accusations and retribution bordering on civil war within the Coalition.
And every day it just gets worse, despite attempts to stem the bleeding.
For a bloke who was at his most effective in pubs, Joyce is utterly blind to the idea that his actions don’t pass the pub test.
For much of 2017, the end of Joyce’s 24-year marriage and relationship Vikki Campion was the elephant in the Coalition’s room.
How did the woman employed as his media adviser, and the bloke who so often claims to read the public mood with alacrity not see the shoals they were sailing towards?
You can have some sympathy for a bloke whose 24-year marriage is over, finds himself out of the family home and suddenly has a new baby on the way, but his actions during 2017 and they way he plays a number of leave passes to explain them, conveniently ignored the fact that he’s the nation’s deputy PM.
Score $14,000 worth of free accommodation from a mate?
No worries, he was “neither a minister nor member” at the time of the offer, he says.
Neat. Joyce was forced to resign from parliament because he was a dual citizen, in breach of the Constitution – and the offer came during the six weeks he was campaigning to get his old $419,000 job back.
After his now partner, Vikki Campion, left his office, where she was his media adviser last April, she took on two further jobs with Nationals MPs at taxpayer expense.
No worries there, Joyce says. She wasn’t my partner at the time. But he was in charge of the appointments.
The on-off nature to their relationship during 2017 is a private matter, but it involves a workplace where voters are right to expect propriety and accountability when taxpayer funds are being expended.
And plenty of voters who’ve dealt with Centrelink and other government departments about their domestic situation would be wishing they could explain away their circumstances with similar ease.
Who knew what and when remains unclear – and Turnbull was certainly never notified by Joyce – but plenty of modern workplaces expect staff to disclose inter-office relationships.
That’s not because it’s wrong or forbidden, but so they can manage any potential risks or conflicts. If the #metoo movement revealed nothing else last year, it was about the impact of a clear power imbalance between business leaders who take a shine to a member of staff, and how badly it can play out.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Joyce to consider his future in taking next week off. The Nationals boss hit back today telling the PM to stay out of it.
The fear in Turnbull about his own future is palpable as the public backlash against the government begins to metastasise. Next week’s polls have the potential to add to his pain and terminal decline.
Joyce must go. The question is whether he’ll insist on hanging on for long enough to take the Coalition’s boss with him.
As the timeline and details of Joyce’s workplace affair seep out, despite his insistence that it’s a private matter, it increasingly looks like his departure from public life is not only his only option, but also the government’s, as well as Malcolm Turnbull’s only hope.
Turnbull is helpless when it comes to dealing with Joyce, and Labor is already honing in on the PM’s apparent powerlessness, calling on him to sack Joyce as a minister.
The ephemeral courage of some Nationals MPs this week who flagged concerns about their leader evaporated quickly, so the Coalition’s junior partner is now holding the government hostage.
Joyce remains convinced he can weather this storm, but he’s captaining a political Titanic.
If the future father of five is not standing there next week saying “I’ve had time to consult with my colleagues and family and upon reflection concluded it’s important for me to spend more time with family”, then he may as well save taxpayers the cost of the next election and hand the Lodge keys to Bill Shorten now.
There is also a national interest question in Joyce’s capability to function in his role as a cabinet minister. Everyone has personal crises of varying causes and degrees from time to time, and knows the impact it has on their ability to think clearly and be effective. This is OK for most people but when it’s a personal crisis of your own making and you’re the deputy prime minister, the stakes are vastly different.
The PM is right to ensure the Canberra workplace is safe for women. Plenty of people will have workplace relationships, but your boss hitting you up – or you’re in a relationship with them while being paid by taxpayers – it’s fair to expect scrutiny to ensure everything is done by the book.
In recent weeks, the US and UK political systems have introduced similar rules.
Joyce is now the kid at school who got everyone in class grounded. His actions are shattering Canberra’s ancient shibboleths, and whether you believe that’s a good or bad thing, it now has a lot of people pondering a brave new world of potential anarchy amid a new puritanism.
It’s extraordinary how quickly fortunes turn. Less than a fortnight ago, Turnbull was enjoying a good start to the year, and Joyce had returned to parliament following the dual citizenship debacle with increased support from his New England electorate.
There’s been plenty of debate about privacy since news of Joyce’s relationship finally broke in the mainstream media via The Daily Telegraph, but much of it is disingenuous.
As Tele editor Chris Dore put it: was everyone expected to continue to ignore what had happened as Joyce pushed a pram around Lake Burley Griffin?
Joyce’s statement today was all about everyone else’s behaviour and the scrutiny on his private life.
But this is a man whose family – the old one, which resulted in four daughters with his estranged wife Natalie – was central to his political strategy over the past 13 years. On the day New England voters went to the polls in 2016, Joyce posted three photos of him with his family on Facebook.
Today was once again about being able to have the best of both worlds. The intense scrutiny of his behaviour continues because he remains in public life.
And the stories about his work life will continue – the 50 nights staying in Canberra when parliament wasn’t sitting, the dinner at his mate’s hotel, which he doesn’t recall, costing taxpayers $5000… none will land a killer blow, but they will continue to pile on top of Joyce on a daily basis until the sheer weight crushes the last of his leadership.
If, as he professes, his concerns are for both is old family and the new one he’s about to start, then Joyce should put them first and resign.
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